Guy kindly remained parked on the road beside me while I changed the tire. The whites of his eyes were more evident than usual and while he gave a constant stream of directions on how to change a tire the fastest way possible. He kept one hand on the wheel and left the van in drive. His other hand held a can of pepper spray ready to use.
But not a single Ostrich appeared during the 30 minutes it took to jack up the car and change the tire. I wondered at my own lack of fear, thinking maybe I was emotionally damaged after what I had been through the day before.
I tightened the last lug nut and began folding up the jack.
“Okay, well I guess you’re good. I’ll see you tomorrow,” Guy said and drove off before I could return his jack. I had been prepared to go on at least one date with him, but as I watched his van disappearing over the hill, I felt no regret.
It was time to get out of here. I might actually make it to work before I was missed. As I cranked up the Nissan, the Channel 9 Media van passed me, headed back to the city. It slowed down and I saw the pale face of the TV anchor Malory for the second time in 24 hours. He looked perplexed to see me, to say the least.
I pulled out onto the road, heading back toward the city as well. A few minutes later I had to pull over to let an ambulance pass me. My heart beat harder and faster. I noticed my hands were numb from gripping the steering wheel too hard.
In less than 2 miles, I saw both vehicles again, parked on the road facing two Protector Wolf cars that were parked perpendicular to the road, blocking our passage. A silver town car sat in the midst of it all, and on the road lay the parts and pieces of two human bodies. I heard someone screaming hysterically somewhere off to my left.
There, in the forest, maybe a hundred yards from the road, stood a girl not much younger than myself. Her hands were tearing at her dark hair as she screamed in fear. Two wolves stood on the road, barking and snarling in frustration, and between the girl and the wolves stood a White Ostrich. His wings were spread in defiance and he danced from foot to foot, as though he was rejoicing in his power.
Channel 9 was, of course, filming the whole thing. It was a gruesome scene. Evidently the Ostrich had been working on the bodies for several minutes before the Wolves arrived. There didn’t seem to be much hope that the Wolves would be able to save the terrified girl from the Ostrich. An overwhelming wave of empathy brought tears to my eyes. That could have been me.
From where I sat, behind the other two vans, I had remained unnoticed by the others. An Ostrich could come right out of the forest and get me, and the Wolves might never even notice. I looked all around me, shuddering with renewed fear. And to my dismay, I saw motion on the edge of the road, up ahead, on the backside of the Protector cars.
With relief I saw that it was a third Protector Wolf. He was dragging a human arm. He dropped it on the pavement and looked around briefly, and then began to tear and eat it as fast as he could. His face was stained with blood.
My mind was paralyzed. I couldn’t make sense of what I was seeing. There had to be an explanation. I looked back at the Ostrich and the girl.
Was the Ostrich claiming the girl as prey, or defending her? Were the Wolves trying to save her or kill her? My brain hurt with the question. Refused it completely. It was too hard to even consider such a shift in reality. My heart pounded with the very thought, and I realized I had stopped breathing altogether.
As I sucked air, the girl behind the Ostrich saw me sitting in my car staring at her. I was another girl, a human being like the ones she had lost. She ran in my direction, tearing violently through the bushes until she broke out onto the road, and leaped across it, just ahead of the Wolves and the Malory-Camera-Guy duo.
Before I knew what was happening she was in the back seat, screaming in my ear, “Drive! For God’s sake - drive!”
Instinctively, I hit the lock button, but there was no way I could drive. I was parked behind an ambulance and the road was blocked. Besides, my brain was misfiring.
“Open the door,” a Wolf commanded through the window.
“Don’t open the door!” The girl screamed.
“The rescued victim is out of her mind with terror!”
Malory reported as his camera guy squatted for a better shot through the windows.
“You are safe now. We saved you,” the Wolf said in a soothing voice.
“They killed my mom and dad!” The girl sobbed.
“The Ostriches killed her mom and dad!”
“Open the door so the medics can take care of you, sweetheart,” the Wolf coaxed.
“Don’t open the door!” the girl begged, “he’ll kill us!”
“He’s gone now,” the Wolf said. “We’re going to take care of you now. You are all that matters.”
“Another human victim, saved by our heroic Protector Wolves from the violent man-eating Ostriches!” Malory said into the camera as emotional tears ran down his face.
“You killed my parents!” The girl said hoarsely, all of her spirit and fight draining away.
“Shut off the camera and get out of here,” the Wolf told Malory. “You are disturbing the victim.”
Malory and the Camera Guy obeyed, satisfied with the alarming footage they had scored for the day. The Wolf turned to bark orders at the other two Wolves who were pacing the road, staring into the forest.
“Are you okay?” I asked the girl, turning around to look at her in concern.
Super stupid question, I berated myself silently.
The girl behind me looked like a life-sized porcelain doll. Everything about her was feminine, soft, and beautiful. Her small, manicured hands twisted and knotted the corner of her white satin blouse over and over until it looked as mangled as her emotional state. As I watched, the fight and tension seemed to run out, and she sagged like a limp rag.
“I’m Janey,” I said quietly and waited. She glanced up at me through watery, confused eyes.
“Kara,” she whispered.
Kara remained silent and white as a sheet as I drove her to the E.R.. There she left me hesitantly to go with a kind-faced nurse. As soon as she was gone, I looked around to find a Wolf I’d never seen before waiting to ask me some questions.
“What happened out there today?” The Wolf asked with a disarming smile.
I had no idea what was at stake, I couldn’t have known at that point, but
years later I was to look back on that moment with amazement at how much hinged on my answer.
The Wolf waited, his eyes watching me with wary politeness. My mind was wading through all the events of the last 24 hours and finally, I found my answer. It had been drilled into me by someone I couldn’t remember clearly, just the night before.
“Our heroic Protector Wolves rescued another poor human from the violent talons of the White Ostriches,” I said slowly and clearly.
Even in my own ears, my voice sounded expressionless. But the Wolf smiled a bright white smile and nodded enthusiastically, patting me on the shoulder.
“That’s right, miss. That’s exactly what happened. God bless you for your faithful support and loyalty. Have a nice day.”
And so I ended up at work only two hours late, and a lifetime later.
Everything was the same. Nothing had changed: The coffee was burned, the lights gave me a headache, and restroom was out of toilet paper.
At break-time I stood by the window, looking at the sunlight glinting off of windshields, remembering the Wolf dragging the arm of one of Kara’s parents, the Ostrich doing his strangely happy and fierce dance, and the deeply fake voice of Malory rejoicing in the drama of someone’s else’s horror.
I also remembered something else I had never understood before: the spray-painted messages in an alley behind my apartment. Suddenly, I was burning with the necessity of reading them all again. This time, they would make sense.
By the time I got home I was in desperate need of a shower and a meal, but instead of going up to my apartment, I walked around the building into the alley that had puzzled me for years.
With far more interest than I’d ever had in a museum exhibit, I journeyed down the alley, reading every faded message aloud and rolling it over in my mind.
Bright Ostriches saved me. . . Wolves no longer wear sheep’s clothing. . . The Last Refuge (over a rough painting of the forest). . . We The Sheeple. . . Poverty Is The Red Pill. . . A victim of Wolf violence was here. . . Do yourself a favor and go camping. . .If the Wolves get me, please look for Kara Tamotsu and get her out—
Here I stopped. The paint was fresh. It couldn’t be more than a day old. There was no doubt in my mind that I knew the same Kara. But what had happened to the person who had spray-painted her name?